Even before Gwen could roll over, I encouraged her to be independent. I didn't really know that's what I was doing; I thought I was just trying to get a moment or two to myself (if "myself" means "empty the dishwasher, the washing machine, or my bladder"). If I was in the kitchen, I put her in the playpen nearby with a toy or two. If I was in the living room, she was on a blanket on the floor. If I was upstairs, she was in her crib listening to her mobile. My good friend Janice, who is very wise in the way of babies, complimented me on the fact that I expected Gwen to entertain herself for a minute or two while I did whatever it was I was doing.
Well, Gwen is now almost thirteen months old and I'd say she's pretty darn independent. In general, the only time she fusses and squawks at us is when we're in the kitchen, as she seems to suspect that any kitchen-related activity means that we are Eating Delicious Food And Not Sharing It With Her, which is of course a deadly sin in Gwen's book. For the most part, she plays well on her own and doesn't seem to expect us to entertain her, though she does prefer that we're in the room with her while she plays (so she can keep an eye out for that Delicious Food and make sure it is Appropriately Shared).
The downside to her independence is that she is not a very loving child. For the first few days, picking her up from daycare meant gigantic grins and enthusiastic hugs. These days, she's still happy to see us and happy to come home, but she doesn't see the need for a big cuddle to reinforce that. She very rarely gives hugs at all, and while I'm trying to teach her to give kisses, what she usually does is lean towards me on cue, allowing me to kiss her, and then immediately lean away, anxious to get back to her busy life. Upon being asked for a kiss, she look and acts exactly like a sixteen-year-old would.
I just finished reading Dooce's book It Sucked And Then I Cried (which was, by the way, a dynamite read) and one of the many parts that brought tears to my eyes was in her descriptions of the newborn phase. Now, when Gwen was a newborn, I remember being absolutely dumbfounded at a misty-eyed grandmother who told me that the 3am feedings were her favourite part of the day, and that she missed that closeness once that phase was over. I never felt that way. Night wakings were to be endured, not enjoyed, and if once in a while I savoured the secret smiles Gwen seemed to save just for me - she smiled at 3am long before she smiled "publically" in the daytime - there were dozens of other nights I inwardly groaned when I heard her cry, eagerly anticipating the time when she would sleep through the night.
But now, looking back, I get it. I won't say the newborn phase was my favourite - there were way more negatives than positives, in my opinion - but at last, I get the appeal. There was something powerful, almost magical, about the connection Gwen and I had at the time. The way that I could soothe her crying with just my physical presence. The way she curved her body around mine as I fed her. The way I stroked her impossibly soft hair as she fell asleep, and the humbling act of trust implicit in that moment. I read the book, and I reflected on those moments, and I hungered for my daughter's touch. Craved it. And that afternoon, like all afternoons, she was too busy for kisses and cuddles, because there was playing to be done.
Yes, my daughter is independent. And as a personality trait, it will serve her well, and I'm proud of her. But oh, I hope like mad that when she gets a little older she will get a little more cuddly. I have all this love for her, a gigantic, devouring love that demands to be expressed physically, and I have nowhere to put it. I dream of lazy mornings when she climbs out of her own bed and joins us in ours. I long for afternoons cuddling on the couch watching television and evenings with her in my lap and a book in her lap, discussing exactly why Prince Ronald is a bum. It's a good thing I have two friends currently expecting and a host of others who will be "trying" in the next year or so. At least I can get my snuggles from someone's baby, even if it's not my own!